20 Best Back Workouts for Women, According to Top Fitness Experts

20 Best Back Workouts for Women, According to Top Fitness Experts

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A strong, toned back is more than just aesthetics. As one of the most important parts of the body and often the most neglected, your back is responsible for everything from good posture to connecting the shoulders, hips, booty, and more.

«Working your back should be a part of everyone’s weekly workout routine, and having a strong back is imperative for women of all ages to perform daily tasks with good form while preventing injury,» says Autumn Calabrese, renowned celebrity trainer and Beachbody® Super Trainer. Calabrese says the benefits of performing exercises that target and strengthen the back are plenty, from improving and maintaining proper posture, increasing core strength and engagement, and even enhancing your shoulder stability.

«The muscles of the back are some of the largest muscles in the human body,» notes Calabrese. «By strengthening them, you increase your overall muscle mass and improve bone density. More muscle burns more calories by boosting your resting metabolism,» she adds.

But it’s not just your back muscles that get all the benefits. «Another bonus is that since your arms and legs attach to your trunk, your arms or legs must get involved to work your back muscles effectively. By doing so, many back exercises are integrated and functional.» Calabrese highlights back strengthening workout moves in her new 9 Week Control Freak Beachbody® Program, and fitness experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Wellness Lab got a chance to sit down with Calabrese as she shares her favorite and most effective back exercise for women. Before starting any exercise regimen, always check in with your doctor or healthcare provider.

15 Minute Back Workout for Women:

  1. Pick four moves from the list below.
  2. Perform 10-15 repetitions of each exercise.
  3. Rest 30-60 seconds between each movement when needed.
  4. Repeat circuit three times through.

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1

Scapular Pushups

Even if you can’t do a full pushup, scapular pushups require only a small range of motion and are a great option for both beginners and seasoned athletes. This move is especially helpful in the beginning of your upper body workout to help warm up and fire up those back muscles.

How to: Start in a high plank position with your core and booty engaged. If needed, lower your knees to the ground. Keep your arms straight with hands directly underneath your shoulders. As you keep your arms extended, envision a pencil between your shoulder blades as you pinch them together. Try to retract and protract your shoulder blades, lowering your body slightly about 1 or 2 inches. Hold each rep for about five seconds, then release and return to your high plank position.

2

Renegade Rows

Calabrese swears by this full-body exercise move that not only targets the back but also requires stabilization through the core. She says this move can also be modified by lowering your knees to the floor.

How to: Start in a plank position with hands on dumbbells directly under your shoulders and feet hip-distance apart (or wider for more stability). Maintain a strong and stable core while you lift the right weight off the floor and drive your elbow up towards the ceiling. Pause at the top, then return to the start position.

3

Bent Over Row

This classic back blasting workout move recommended by Calabrese stimulates everything from your lats and traps to your rhomboids.

How to: Start standing with feet hip-distance apart and dumbbells in hands. Keep your body weight in the heels of your feet while you hinge forward from the hips allowing the dumbbells to slide down your thigh and stop right at knee level. Maintaining a long neutral spine and tight core, drive your elbows up behind you and squeeze at the top. Then lower down to start position.

4

Bent-Over Reverse Fly

This simple yet effective movement is a back workout routine staple. «Make sure to maintain a long neutral spine and tight core during this movement,» Calabrese advises.

How to: Start standing with feet hip-distance apart and weights in hands. Keep your body weight in the heel of your feet while you hinge forward from the hips allowing the weights to slide down your thigh and stop right at knee level. Open your arms out to your side and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. Slowly lower back down to starting position.

5

Arnold Press

Change up the standard shoulder press with this move that adds rotation and hits all angles of the deltoids and recruits a ton of stabilizing back muscles.

How to: Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart and weights in hand. Start with your arms bent and palms facing towards your shoulders, like you would at the top of a bicep curl. As you press your arms up overhead, twist them on the way up so that your palms are facing away from you. Make sure to reach full extension where your biceps are touching your ears, then lower back down and repeat.

6

Straight Arm Lateral Raise

Mastering the lateral raise recruits a ton of muscle stabilization through the entire arm, shoulders, and back. Start with light weights to ensure proper form.

How to: Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and weights in hand. Keep arms fairly straight with a slight bend in the elbows as you raise your arms out to the sides about an inch or two higher than shoulder height. Be sure to keep your core engaged, lats activated, and shoulders down and relaxed. Lower down to starting position and repeat.

7

90 Degree Lateral Raise

Build sculpted and strong shoulders and back muscles with this simple but effective lateral raise variation.

How to: Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and weights in hand. Bend your elbows to create a 90 degree angle and palms are facing towards the body. Keeping the 90 degree angle, raise your arms up so your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Be sure to keep your core engaged, lats activated, and shoulders down and relaxed. Lower down to starting position and repeat.

8

Y-Press

This shoulder press variation hits different angles of the back and shoulders for some serious activation and toning. Since the angle can take some time to get used to, start with lighter weights and then progress as you get more comfortable with the movement.

How to: Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and weights in hand. Keep your core tight as you lift the dumbbells to your shoulders with your elbows pointed out to the side. Push the weight up and out diagonally so that your arms make the shape of a «Y.» Lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders to complete one rep.

9

Upright Rows

Looking for solid upper back exercises to incorporate into your workout routine? The upright row targets many large muscles throughout the shoulders and upper back.

How to: Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart and holding a kettlebell or dumbbell with palms facing your body. Keep your core tight and chest tall as you lift the weight up towards your chin, leading with the elbows and keeping the weight close to your body. The arms should not go higher than parallel with the shoulders. Pause at the top, then return back to the starting position.

10

Plank Up Downs

Another great bodyweight movement that strengthens everything from the back to your core and glutes, plank up downs are an advanced exercise and can be scaled to the knees if needed.

How to: Start in a high plank position, and keep your core engaged. Lower one arm at a time into a forearm plank and then, one arm at a time, return to a high plank position.

11

Superman

Bodyweight back exercises can be just as effective and require activation throughout the entire body. This classic move is one of Calabrese’s favorite back workouts for women at home.

How to: Lie face down on the floor, reaching your arms straight out in front of you. Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your legs, arms, and top of your chest off the floor. Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position.

12

W Superman

Calabrese incorporates this Superman variation for even more back sculpting benefits.

How to: Lie face down with your elbows directly out to your sides and your forearms on the ground in line with the sides of your body. Squeeze your glutes and lift your chest and arms off the floor while squeezing your elbows together behind you. From above, your arms will look like a «W.» Hold for a count, then slowly return to the starting position.

13

Lat Pullovers

Your lats are an extremely important muscle for developing strength and also keeping your back and shoulders stabilized. Try this pullover variation from Calabrese for maximum engagement.

How to: Lie on your back, knees bent with feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell (or dumbbells) in your hands directly above your chest. Maintaining a slight bend in the elbow and your back pressed into the floor, lower the weight overhead, stopping right before it touches the floor. Slowly lift back up to starting position.

14

One-Arm Tricep Extension

Back exercises with dumbbells help to build muscle and enhance any exercise movement. This unilateral exercise also requires core stabilization to keep the body upright and stable.

How to: Start standing tall with feet hip-distance apart and core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and raise it overhead so your arm is straight directly above your shoulder. Lower down behind your head so your elbow bends at a 90 degree angle, then extend back up until your arm is straight. Be sure to repeat on both sides.

15

Rotator Cuff Rotation

A group of muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff surrounds the shoulder joint. This move that helps to strengthen your back and shoulders can also help with improving posture.

How to: Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart and core engaged. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start with arms bent in a 90 degree angle with palms facing the ceiling. Keep your arms bent and elbows locked in place as you rotate your forearms out and towards your back. Your arms should be in line with the sides of your body, then rotate back to starting position in front of the body.

16

Swimmers

This is one of Calabrese’s favorite functional back exercises that can be done in the comfort of your own home or at the gym.

How to: Lie face down on the floor, reaching your arms straight out in front of you. Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your right arm and left leg off the floor. Pause at the top, and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat, lifting your left arm and right leg off the floor. Pause at the top and then return to the starting position.

17

W to T Pulses

These little pulses can help activate the shoulders and back muscles and are great to start off your workout or end on a high note.

How to: Start standing tall with feet hip-distance apart and core engaged. Grab a set of light dumbbells and hold them straight out to the sides with palms facing towards the ceiling so your body makes the shape of a «T.» Bend your elbows slightly in so they make a «W» shape, and then with purpose extend back out. Continue pulsing between a «W» and «T’ position for 30-45 seconds.

18

Russian Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings work virtually every single muscle in the body, but they heavily engage the entire back. A full kettlebell swing goes all the way above your head, whereas a Russian kettlebell swing ends at eye level.

How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and a slight bend in your knees. Engage your core and be sure to keep a flat back throughout the movement. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip and start with the kettlebell hanging in between your thighs with arms straight and engaged. Lean forward, then use your hips to swing the kettlebell up to eye level. Lower back down and repeat.

19

Superman Pull-Ups

Do pull-ups sound too intimidating? This bodyweight variation is a must-try back exercise at home from Calabrese that can help you work up to a full pull-up.

How to: Lie face down on the floor, reaching your arms straight out in front of you. Squeeze your glutes and lower back to raise your legs, arms, and top of your chest off the floor. Pause at the top, pull your elbows down and back (squeeze them together at the bottom), then reach back overhead (mimicking a pull-up movement). Then slowly return to the starting position.

20

Barbell Assisted Modified Pull-Up

The pull-up is the ultimate back and upper body exercise, requiring a ton of strength and stabilization. But this difficult movement can take years of strength training and practice. Start with this modified version if you have access to a pull-up bar to help work your way up.

How to: Make sure your barbell is secured on the rig. Start by sitting down directly underneath the barbell in an L shape position with your legs straight out. Raise your arms overhead and get a good grip on the barbell (adjust the barbell height so it’s not too high that you have to reach for it but not too low that you have to bend your arms). Squeeze your shoulder blades together and tighten your core as you bend your arms and pull up until your chin meets or is just above the bar, then slowly lower back down.

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